The Obama administration slapped new sanctions on Syria today, part of an effort to ratchet up the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to allow reforms and halt a brutal crackdown on protestors seeking his ouster.
The Treasury Department sanctioned Muhammad Hamsho, a member of the Syrian parliament and prominent businessman, and his company, the Hamsho International Group, for their role in supporting the Assad regime.
"Muhammad Hamsho earned his fortune through his connections to regime insiders, and during the current unrest, he has cast his lot with Bashar al-Asad, Mahir al-Asad and others responsible for the Syrian government's violence and intimidation against the Syrian people," said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. "The sanctions we are applying today to Hamsho and his company are the direct consequence of his actions."
According to the Treasury Department, Hamsho has business interests in many sectors of the Syrian economy and has served as a front man for Assad and his brother.
In recent months the United States has sanctioned over two dozen Syrian officials, including Assad himself, for their role in the violence.
This latest round of sanctions comes as Syrian troops poured into the restive city of Hama this week, with reports of dozens killed. Today human rights activists report that over 100 people have been killed in Hama in just the past 24 hours, despite Assad's promise hours earlier that he would allow reforms, including allowing opposition parties to operate.
State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner dismissed the reforms, saying they "ring hollow" amid the continued violence.
The escalated violence this week spurred a condemnation from United Nations Security Council yesterday, overcoming longstanding Russian opposition to what it saw as meddling in Syria's internal affairs.
On Monday the European Union levied its own round of sanctions on Syria. Following yesterday's Security Council action the British permanent representative to the United Nations suggested the world body could consider bolder steps including sanctions when it meets next week if the violence continues.
The Obama administration is also drafting even tougher sanctions on Syria that would hit its oil and gas sector, a lucrative source of funding for the regime.
"We are exploring broader sanctions that will isolate the Assad regime politically and deny it revenue with which to sustain its brutality," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement Tuesday after meeting with US-based Syrian activists.
Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week that earlier rounds of sanctions have been effective in squeezing President Assad.
"So the sanctions do bite -- maybe not in ways that are always on the headlines, but what we do see is more and more businesspeople -- and especially Sunni businesspeople, which is an important pillar of the regime's support. We do see them slowly but surely shifting sides. And that's important. So I do think our sanctions are having an impact," he said.